TED Conversations

Luke Hutchison

TED Fellow,


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Is capitalism sustainable?

Bono stated in his TED2013 talk that the numbers show that we can eradicate all poverty worldwide by 2030. While I really hope that is true, it begs the question: Is capitalism sustainable? Is it possible to have a rich and middle class without a poor class? The sad reality of capitalism is that if there is an exponentially small number of people with exponentially large wealth, there has to be an exponentially long tail of much poorer people who are each contributing to that wealth. Not that we necessarily need an exponentially small number of people with exponentially large wealth, but would the world keep running without capitalistic incentives that increase the separation between rich and poor? Can we eradicate all poverty without the rich sharing their riches? What happens to civilization when nobody is willing to work in the factories and orchards, or build roads?

(Please don't take this question the wrong way! Personally I wish that nobody had to work menial jobs. I just don't understand how we can eradicate poverty when so many jobs will always translate into low-paid labor.)


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    Mar 26 2013: We have discussed the sustainability of Capitalism in many differing concepts. There have been many comments decrying the abuses of social and political systems that use capitalism as it's economic foundation.
    That doesn't make the economic system of capitalism bad, that is just an indictment of bad people.

    Capitalism is the most honest way I know of where an individual... I say again.... individual can attain HIS level of achievement himself. He may need help of others, who he must compensate in some manner, but, it is his vision, his resources, his energy that he must offer for his success or even his failure.

    Mankind should not be forced to work, when to work, how to work by any authority against his own free will. That is the basis of all human evil.

    An old priest once told me that when Christ returned to heaven, the devil stayed behind to take men's souls before He could return. That statement requires a high level of faith. But, when I look around and see how things are going, i got to begin to believe there may be some truth in that.
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      Mar 26 2013: I wholly agree that capitalism can work. We also seem to agree that it currently is NOT working. What, then, is the problem? Politics? Justice? Poor education?

      Education, I believe, is a good start.
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        Mar 26 2013: The problem as I see it, some Americans have sold their souls for free healthcare, food stamps, student loans, and a host of other dubious "benefits". When enough Americans have been taken, the rest will go along, even those that maybe hesitant... it's the old follow the lead ewe syndrome. We have become a nation of sheep and I fear our shepherd is not the one the evangelicals talk about on Sunday mornings.
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          Mar 26 2013: We need political engagement from more citizens. Do you agree with that? Government dependents are not the only problem. They did not cause the mess we are in. They certainly did not help, but a deregulated money market was what wreaked havoc on the American economy. General political disengagement and rampant consumerism propagate cynicism. I believe the common man must demand more. I also agree that there exists quite a large portion of people who take advantage of government programs. I propose, in these times, that we reinstate the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Civil Works Administration. Instead of giving people handouts, put them to work conserving the environment and restoring America's infrastructure. Make them work for their money. Give them a sense of responsibility. I believe in that, too.

          I also believe in raising taxes on the rich and on capital gains, instigating a carbon tax immediately, and urging America to become less dependent on fossil fuels. That is the way the world is moving. That is the future. And I would be proud if America led the way in that march. We should subsidize research and development of solar, geothermal and other renewable technologies. Especially solar. The world is already solar powered... We should restore our coastal wetlands (If Louisiana's coastal wetlands had not been drained or cleared, Hurricane Katrina would have left New Orleans unscathed. As of August 2007, we had spent $127,000,000,000 on its damages.) We should subsidize more small farms, and encourage less high-input, dirty agriculture and more polycultures. We should raise, raise, RAISE the minimum wage.

          More than anything, Americans need to become more informed, and more active. I believe reforming our education system to be more self-driven and modern, reforming our political system to be more transparent and less corrupt, and reforming our banking system to be less vulnerable and powerful -- however we might do that -- are good first steps.

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